CommScope’s Top Innovations: Dual Reflector Antenna Feed—Microwave
Note: As part of its 40th anniversary observance, the CommScope team set out to identify the top 40 innovations that have come from CommScope (or one of its acquired companies) over the past 40 years. We are unveiling the innovations chosen for the Top 40 on CommScope Blogs through early January. Read more about the overall program and selection process in this November 4 post.
We continue today with our unveiling of innovations—in alphabetical order—that are ranked 11-20. You can see a list of the Top 40 innovations already revealed on our 40th anniversary page. As our 40th anniversary year draws to a close, we hope you enjoy looking back at what we think are our top innovations—ones that have helped build the world’s infrastructure of today and tomorrow.
Have an opinion about or connection to any of the innovations? Leave a comment below.
Dual Reflector Antenna Feed—Microwave
Definition: The feed assembly is a critical component in a microwave antenna. The feed assembly ensures that the antenna reflector is correctly illuminated and transitions the signals from air travel to/from the transmission lines that link to the radio equipment. The dual reflector feed assembly was a unique innovation in how the feed assembly was constructed. It removed the need for soldering and waveguide fabrication and reduced time-consuming tuning operations. The dual reflector feed assembly made it possible to manufacture low-profile microwave antennas in high volume.
Year of the Innovation: 1998
What is the innovation that CommScope or one of its acquired companies was first in creating?
Andrew Corporation started development of a dual reflector microwave antenna feed system in the mid-1990s and was awarded a patent for its inventive ideas. The dual reflector feed assembly enabled the streamlined, high volume manufacturing of microwave antenna feed systems, and helped the wireless industry meet backhaul requirements during the roll-out of the first GSM networks. In doing so, this innovation allowed substantial reductions in cost and made possible the creation of the first generation of low-profile microwave antennas. It was the precursor to the antenna feed systems in use today.
The dual reflector feed assembly removed the need for soldering and waveguide fabrication and reduced time-consuming tuning operations to a simple test. Prior to this innovation, all microwave antennas (including the very early Andrew ValuLine antennas) used fabricated waveguide feeds that required craft assembly skills and extensive manual tuning at the factory. The dual reflector also made it possible to manufacture low-profile antennas that were about 50 percent thinner than what was commonly made while offering the same performance.
What was happening in the market that this innovation was needed?
Prior to 1990, all microwave antennas were large – 1.2 meters or more in diameter and deployed in long distance trunk networks. The antenna feed systems required several hours of factory assembly and tuning. When the first GSM networks were rolling out, operators recognized that the development of high frequency, outdoor microwave radios provided an ideal solution to connect cell sites back to the core telecom networks. This application generated a massive demand for thinner microwave antennas that could perform as well as larger ones. The dual reflector antenna feed allowed for that demand to be met.
How did this innovation benefit customers and the industry?
The dual reflector antenna feed accelerated manufacturing and reduced costs. Essentially, it made smaller microwave antennas manufacturable in volume by standardizing and streamlining the manufacturing process. It made antennas more cost-effective, and allowed mobile operators to deploy the first generation of low-profile antennas, which were more aesthetically acceptable on cell sites.
Did this innovation act as the springboard for other innovations, and if so, how do they all tie together?
The technology has evolved since 1998 with improved designs and materials. The original sub-reflector and funnel evolved into a dielectric cone. The current generation of antenna feeds incorporates grooves at the cone end to enable more control over the reflector illumination and hence antenna radiation pattern. With this technology evolution, CommScope has eliminated the need for shields in the latest antennas whilst maintaining or improving product performance.
What is the significance of the innovation for CommScope?
CommScope’s ValuLine antennas lead the market for microwave backhaul applications. Dual reflector antenna feeds enabled streamlined, more cost-effective manufacturing and lower prices, which were a key factor in CommScope’s building its antenna market leadership.
About the Author
John Cole is director of product line management – microwave systems for CommScope, a global leader in infrastructure solutions for communications networks. John’s career spans nearly 30 years to include initially working as a microwave engineer on active and passive radar components before moving to Andrew Corporation, where he became an antenna designer and co founder of the ValuLine Microwave Antenna business unit. In 1997, John moved in to a product line management role where he led successful businesses in both satellite antenna/electronics and microwave point to point antennas. Mr. Cole holds several patents relating to antenna design. He holds an Electronics/Engineering Diploma and a BSc (honours) degree in Technology from the UK Open University.